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Clear-cut, but not clear communication
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Yellowknife is often described as an island of civilization in a sea of forest.

Anyone who has taken a walk around the city outskirts knows this is an apt description. For 400 kilometres north, other than some lakes and rivers, there is nothing but forest. Ditto east and west.

But as residents of Fort McMurray and Slave Lake, Alta. -- Northern cities likewise surrounded by boreal forest - are acutely aware, what makes a community in the woods special also makes it extremely vulnerable.

In a dry year, such as in 2014 when ash rained down on the city and Highway 3 remained closed for days at a time due to encroaching forest fires, the surrounding wilderness can support high-intensity wildland fires that are virtually unstoppable. The 2014 fire season was the worst ever recorded in the NWT.

Perhaps this explains why city hall appeared a little over-zealous in its attempt to build a fire break behind Parker Park near Finlayson Drive recently. Residents were surprised to find a huge swath of forest had been cleared to buffer the large Frame Lake South neighbourhood from the near endless tract of forest outside of it. The city's intentions were honorable. In fact, it's the municipality's duty to protect residents and their property from forest fire threats. Unfortunately, few people seemed to be aware of what it was doing and why.

Some people who have grown accustomed to walking their dogs in the area were upset. They said they understood the need for the fire break, but wondered why residents weren't warned beforehand.

And there's the rub: the distinction between "making information available" and actually communicating it.

Information about the Finlayson clear-cut is, technically, available if one digs. Yellowknifer picked up a shovel and checked. There is a definitive map on the city's website and two sentences in the city's July 7 capital update mail-out newsletter; a good summary on page 253 of the 2015 Capital Fund; a concise plan from the territorial government with roles and responsibilities from 2012 - but in this day and age, people really shouldn't have to dig.

While Yellowknife is vulnerable to forest fires, especially in the Finlayson area of town, and no one wants to see a repeat of the devastation in Fort McMurray or Slave Lake, the city still needs to clearly communicate to the community about its plans. A city spokesperson said work next summer will be outlined ahead of time -- again in the capital update, on the city's website and on social media.

Residents should realize this is important work and support the city's efforts to do it, but if the city wants to avoid any more clear-cut shock maybe it's time the city rethink its communication efforts.

Tourism helps diversify the economy
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, October 4, 2017

It looks like the territorial economy might be on the upswing.

While the resource sector is getting a boost in the number of mineral claims, the tourism sector is celebrating record-breaking visitor numbers.

Now, it's important to be clear that it would be difficult to match what the diamond mines contribute to the territory's economy - Diavik, Gahcho Kue and Ekati rake in a whopping 25 per cent of its GDP.

In comparison, 100,000 travellers pumped $200 million in to the territory's economy - this number hovers closer to about five per cent of the territory's GDP. It may be a small number, especially compared to what diamonds pull in, but it's nothing to sneeze at.

That's because a healthy economy can't rely on one sector to rake in a majority of the wealth - if the NWT could bolster the mining sector, public sector, tourism, construction and manufacturing, it would create a situation where the failure of one sector leaves four others to pick up the slack. A diverse economy is a healthy economy, and the growth of the tourism sector puts the territory in a much better position if - or when - the volatile resource sector slumps again.

Kivalliq talks baseball as playoffs set to begin
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, October 4, 2017

While hockey rules number one across the Kivalliq, especially in Rankin Inlet, the region has its share of knowledgeable baseball fans.

And, despite the excitement of NHL hockey being back this week, there's been plenty of baseball talk during the past few weeks in the region focusing on the demise of the Toronto Blue Jays this season, and who will take the World Series title.

First of all, get over it to any Jays fan who is sulking enough about this year's fall to start suggesting the Jays should tear it down and go into rebuilding mode.

No team in baseball could have weathered as many injuries to key players as the Blue Jays this season.

The Jays starting pitching staff - hailed as of the league's best going into the season - was devastated by injuries as the year progressed, and starting fielders seemed to just keep dropping like flies.

The Jays still have the core of a very good ball club.

If they're serious about contending next season, a few shrewd free-agent acquisitions to plug the holes, bolster the pitching staff and add to the squad's overall depth will boost Toronto right back into playoff contention.

With the era of third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., right-handed pitcher Sean Reid-Foley, and perhaps shortstop Bo Bichette only a season or two removed, the Jays can afford to load up for another run and unload some top talent at the deadline if the bottom falls out.

The offers for the likes of a healthy Troy Tulowitski, a productive Kendrys Morales and, especially, third baseman Josh Donaldson in a contract year will still be substantial.

Turning to the World Series, this may be the strongest group of four or five teams with a legitimate shot at the title in a good many years.

My apologies to Naujaat senior administrative officer Rob Hedley, but the Boston Red Sox just don't have the pitching to go all the way, and the New York Yankees are too streaky, some would say inconsistent, to handle the best of the rest still standing.

The Cleveland Indians and the Houston Astros are the best bets for an American League team to claim a series victory.

The National League has two juggernauts in the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals, and a determined and very dangerous defending world champion in the Chicago Cubs.

These are five incredibly strong baseball teams, folks.

At the end of the day, it will come down to a battle of the balanced when the Dodgers and Astros meet in the World Series.

Both teams have power to spare, solid averages up and down their batting orders, better-then-average speed and solid, if not spectacular, defense.

At the end of the day the Dodgers' ability to throw Klayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish and Rich Hill at a team, backed by 16-game winner Alex Hill and top-of-the-line closer Kenley Jansen, is a high hurdle for most lineups to get over in a seven-game series.

Predictions can be a lot of fun (especially when there's no money involved) when one considers him- or herself a knowledgeable fan, and draws upon that knowledge to predict a winner.

I go out on a limb and predict the Dodgers will defeat Houston in six games to claim the series. If another team proves me wrong, may it be the Cleveland Indians.

So who's next?
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, October 2, 2017

Sen. Nick Sibbeston appears to have reached his tolerance limit with the so-called chamber of sober second thought.

After almost two decades is the upper chamber, the outspoken and controversial senator for the NWT - and former territorial premier - abruptly announced Sept. 21 he had tendered his resignation to Gov. Gen. David Johnston. His last day will be Nov. 21 - one year short of the mandatory retirement age of 75.

"I thought, it's as good a day as any to pull the plug. To tell the governor general that I would be resigning on my 74th birthday," he told News/North ("Nick Sibbeston resigns from Senate," Sept. 25).

Always an outspoken public figure with a passion for his causes - which focused largely on the environment and Indigenous rights - Sibbeston more than once landed in hot water for such things as expenses or missing votes.

Sibbeston told News/North he wasn't leaving the Senate early because of the changes in the way it operates but he did concede it became drastically different under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper than the Senate he first joined.

"It became so partisan," said the man who was appointed to the Senate by former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien in 1999. "It was unhealthy. It was terrible being there. Anything good you wanted to do was being denied."

Sibbeston did note the Senate atmosphere has recently improved to become more democratic. Prior to the Trudeau government being elected, taking a seat in the Senate was often seen as akin to bellying up to the patronage trough.

While senators are still ultimately named by the PM, he selects the winner from a list supplied by a selection committee.

Which now opens the door for speculation on who the next senator will be. Will the next NWT senator be a long-time Liberal Party member ready for a cushy ride into retirement?

There have been calls in recent times for the Senate to be reformed or done away with altogether. News/North has stopped short of stating the Senate should be abolished, however, it needs to be far more effective - perhaps elected - and relevant than it presently is.

That's why the person selected to replace Sibbeston could send a signal as to the future direction of the place. Some suggestions are already being made, such as from the Status of Women Council, which, understandably will "champion a woman leader for the role as our next senator," with a "great understanding of the diverse culture, socio-economic challenges and experiences of its people."

So who could be up for the job? After looking a the parameters - which include being between 30 and 75 years of age, preferably a woman, Indigenous or a visible minority, and having a recognized record of community service - News/North came up with a short list of who could be looked at for the seat:

  • Ethel Blondin-Andrew, former Liberal MP and current Sahtu Secretariat Inc. chair;
  • Stephen Kakfwi, former NWT premier and Dene Nation president;
  • Dennis Bevington, former NDP MP;
  • Former broadcaster Paul Andrew

Or Kakfwi's spouse and Truth and Reconciliation commissioner Marie Wilson.

If she was a few years younger, News/North columnist and honorary chief for life of the Inuvik Dene band Cece Hodgson McCauley would be a slam-dunk choice for senator.

Now in her 90s, her decades-long legacy of unvarnished advocacy for the territory, for its isolated communities, and for Indigenous people would raise the roof of the red chamber.

Add exiles' site dump to shame list
Nunavut/News North - Monday, October 2, 2017

It would be hard to find a Nunavummiuq who does not know the history of the High Arctic Exiles, the Inuit the federal government took from their homes in Nunavik and dropped off at Resolute and Grise Fiord in the 1950s.

The exiles created the communities we have there now but their history bears the scars of the forced relocation, an abandonment that saw 87 Inuit unaccustomed to the High Arctic conditions, left unprepared for the winter, and with limited knowledge of local hunting opportunities.

Our reporter travelled to Grise Fiord in 2014 for the opening of the hamlet's new municipal office and recreation centre. While there, Laisa Audlaluk-Watsko, the daughter of relocatee Larry Audlaluk, made a point of taking us to the monument to the exiles, commissioned by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and erected in 2010. A similar monument was erected in Resolute Bay. Shortly before the unveiling of the monuments, the federal government apologized for its actions. We'd like to see a memorial in Ottawa to remind the rest of Canada of this shameful decision by federal officials.

Seeing these monuments in person is a powerful reminder of how alone these people must have felt. As the families were divided to populate three locations, the Resolute monument depicts a solitary man looking toward Grise Fiord, to family members from whom he was separated.

Cognizant of this painful history, it's a surprise that at some point a decision was made that the landfill in Resolute Bay should be placed on the site where the exiles first took shelter. The location of the dump shows disrespect for the people who suffered all those years ago, forced to build a new life for themselves in the name of Arctic sovereignty.

A new dump will be built but will the exiles' site dump be cleared?

This is just the latest on a long list of landfill-related problems facing Nunavut's communities. Most are old and lack safeguards to prevent toxic waste from leeching into the waters so valued by Nunavummiut. Too many require fires to reduce their size, an act that sends toxins into the air Nunavummiut breathe. All are underfunded and lack any sort of waste reduction incentives.

Even the best intentions have fallen flat due to lack of long-term funding. Witness Tundra Take-back, the excellent car recycling pilot project that no longer operates in Nunavut. Witness Iqaluit's dump fire and the city's subsequent difficulties reducing the risk of another such debacle through cardboard shredding and incineration.

The cherry on this garbage sundae is that so many dumps are the first sight upon arrival to our fair communities. It's true in Grise Fiord, and it will be true in Iqaluit for cruise passengers when the port opens (as a consolation, air passengers get a wonderful view of Iqaluit's famous jail).

But nothing should sour our view more than seeing a dump on an historic site. No wonder it's a regular source of contention in Resolute. Let's show some respect and clean it up.

NWT liquor rules don't make sense
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, September 29, 2017
The NWT Liquor Licensing Board is moving toward more transparency in the wake of complaints from Yellowknife businesses about its decision-making process and that deserves applause, but there is still a long way to go to create liquor rules that make sense.

Last week, Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod, whose department oversees liquor legislation in the territory, gave Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne vague answers on the future of the board in the legislative assembly, suggesting its decisions might be made more public in the future.

But, the board had already beat him to the punch, telling Yellowknifer days earlier that the board has "recently" initiated actions to publish all orders, licenses, permits and reasons for decisions.

The board appears to be responding to public criticism of a decision to not allow the NWT Brewing Company to sell its beer directly to local establishments - a decision that was not made public.

Hopefully the minister will catch up to what the board is doing, because right now, in the transparency race, it is leaving him in the dust.

Despite his vague answers last week, McLeod did commit to reviewing the liquor board's guidelines and the legislation the board functions under -- the NWT Liquor Act. This is goods news. Hopefully, as his department opens the fridge door and starts poking around among the forgotten Tupperware and fossilized fruit, it will have the chance to look at some of the other problems with the way alcohol is managed in the NWT.

For instance, the board sometimes travels for meetings. Travelling to Yellowknife for a liquor compliance hearing in 2015 - one board member came from Inuvik, another from Fort Smith, and a staff member came from Hay River - the board spent $7,500 just to levy a single $100 fine. This is an outrageous expense in the era of Skype. Conducting all hearings by video-conference would cut down on the board's operating costs and perhaps free up some government funds for other needed projects.

Another archaic holdover is the board's insistence on limiting sponsorship from local companies selling alcohol to a cap of $1,500, while major corporations down south, such as Big Rock Brewing, can sponsor the Folk on the Rocks festival because they're based in Alberta and not under the thumb of NWT liquor regulations.

And at the risk of indulging our self-interest, while the wide open, yawning maw of the Internet and cable television belches endless beer commercials into the territory, local print and radio is banned from doing any advertising at all.

Transparency is a good first step, and the liquor board and minister should be applauded for taking one toward more sensible liquor licensing rules.

But, there is much more work to do in order to fix a system that needlessly wastes money while applying unfair rules to NWT businesses.

Legalization is not an endorsement
Editorial Comment by Stewart Burnett
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, September 28, 2017

Legalizing marijuana is a great move for freedom in this country, but that doesn't make it an endorsement of using the substance.

Cannabis has received a lot of positive promotion in recent years. In an effort to counter the negative stigma and create a path to legalization, this is a good thing. But talk of the drug's benefits has gone a little overboard.

Sure, it can be used to help some cancer patients or assist people with stomach problems, but it can also be a major contributor to depression and anxiety.

Just about everyone smokes weed during their youth in this day and age.

For most, it is an exciting new world, a relatively innocent change of perspective and a bonding opportunity among friends. However, time proves for many that regular use of the substance can be a limiting factor in personal progress. It can go from a fun way to spend the night once in a while to the only way to have fun every day.

The less time one spends sober, the more that person's problems can compound and seem insurmountable. It's not a coincidence that marijuana use and depression often go hand in hand.

The public perception pendulum has swung a touch too far in promotion of marijuana. It's often recommended for depression, anxiety or other problems, and this seems like poor advice.

It is a recreational drug, just like alcohol. It's not especially healthy just because it's a plant. That's a crazy baseline to judge health by in the first place.

But allowing people to smoke weed, which can be only a personal crime and does not impact anyone else, is the right move for liberty.

People will find their highs no matter what. Banning substances only opens black markets, increases allure for what is off limits, and punishes people for crimes that hurt no one but themselves. We see how effective "dry" communities in the North already are.

There are all sorts of deadly legal addictions. Policing people's bodies is a fruitless and damaging pursuit.

Moral laws, not legal ones, are what need to be promoted.

Books of rules, no matter how violently enforced, will never resonate as deeply as the innate sense of right and wrong that is fostered through generations of positive upbringing.

Legality doesn't carry with it moral authority to use.

The federal government's legalization of cannabis is a good change, but the focus needs to be less on the celebration of a drug and more on the gift of freedom and the responsibility that comes with it.

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